Posted on Leave a comment

Barefoot and carefree- the lost art of unstructured outdoor play and why it needs to make a comeback

By Brandy Browne

Think back to your childhood…what do you remember? Can you feel the mud squishing between your toes on days at the lake with your family? Can you feel the humidity of those southern nights you spent running around in the dark with your friends, where your greatest light source was the fireflies buzzing around you? Do you remember running barefoot in the grass? Long hours spent playing imaginary play games with your friends? Hot days at the ballfield? Many of our childhood memories center around time spent with family and being outdoors, and rightfully so. Hanscom, occupational therapist, (2016) notes, “Movement through active free play- particularly in the outdoors- is absolutely the most beneficial gift we as parents, teachers, and caregivers can bestow on our children to ensure healthy bodies, creative minds, academic success, emotional stability, and strong social skills” (pgs 1-2). Our parents had it figured out. So, what happened?

Somehow, despite our best intentions to prepare our children for the world they will enter into upon adulthood, we have gone awry. Over the last five decades, core strength and the stamina required for active play have steadily declined. Other problems have presented themselves as well. Dr. Faria, chiropractor, describes the increase in the number of pediatric clients she sees for neck and back pain. “Nerves that are impinged or restricted by tightness in the upper neck can affect everything. Restrictions in the upper neck can affect the eyes, sinuses, and nasal palate- some children may even complain of headaches. Children may have trouble with their pincer gripping from restrictions in their lower neck. Restrictions, regardless of the region, can interrupt the adequate neural input to and from the brain” (Hanscom, 2016, p 16). Even more concerning, a 2010 study in Sweden found that the rate of fracture incidents had increased by thirteen percent between 1998-2007. This is likely occurring because of a decrease in the strength of the muscles required to protect our bones from such incidents, as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies (Hanscom, 2016, p 18). 

So, how much play do our kids really need? The answer might surprise you. Even infants need opportunities for time in nature throughout the day. Toddlers and preschoolers need a minimum of five to eight hours of active outdoor play per day. School aged children still need four to five hours of active outdoor play per day, and adolescents still require three to four hours of active outdoor play every day. Why outdoors, you might ask? The outdoors provides many benefits for children. Outdoor play provides children with a tactile sensory experience, offers them reprieve from the pressures of today’s world, and is very calming. Hanscom (2016) affirms, stating, “The sensations of getting dirty and messy in mud offer children an invaluable rich and tactile experience. The tactile system is flexible, and through exposure to various tactile experiences, children increase their tolerance to different touch sensations” (p 103). It also improves our immune system. This supports recent reports of the Hygiene Hypothesis the US Food and Drug Administration is reporting on. Hygiene hypothesis is the theory that overuse of cleaning products, hand sanitizer, showering daily, and sterilizing absolutely everything is actually hurting our immune response system, rather than bolstering it. 

There are also advantages to allowing children to be barefoot outdoors. It strengthens the arches of your feet. Allowing your child to begin learning to walk barefoot and waiting to introduce shoes lowers the likelihood of your child presenting flat feet and requiring physical therapy to correct it. Being barefoot aids in the sensory experience of being outside. It also assists children in developing normal gait patterns, balance, and the tolerance of touch in the feet sensory wise. 

So, how do we go about creating meaningful outdoor active play experiences for our children? This can be accomplished in a plethora of ways. Some suggestions include free active barefoot play (no agenda necessary or even encouraged), seasonal activities, such as berry picking or fruit picking, maintaining a family fruit, vegetable, or flower garden, observing wildlife,interacting with animals (pets are very therapeutic for children), playing in the dark (yes, they might fall…it’s going to be okay). Encourage the climbing of trees and other surfaces. Even cooking outside as often as possible can provide a very sensory experience for children. Just think of the mouth watering smell of burgers on the grill. Most of all, this means creating intentional space in your schedule for these types of opportunities. Your children will be happier and healthier for it!

References

Hanscom, A. (2016). Balanced and barefoot. New Harbinger Publications. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Preserving the art of play

By Brandy Browne

Psychologist and play advocate David Elkind states, “The decline of children’s free, self-initated play is the result of the perfect storm of technological innovation, rapid social change, and economic globalization” (Macnamara, 2016, p 53). A culture that seems to digitalize everything is squandering the type of play necessary for young children to cultivate creativity and problem solving skills necessary for success as an adult. Deborah Macnamara (2016), author of Rest play grow: Making sense of preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one), calls for action that will preserve play. She states, “It means pushing back against the cultural tide that sees play as frivolous and unproductive instead of as the bedrock upon which our children realize their full human potential” (p 55). Jean Piaget, renowned developmental psychologist, once asked an audience, “Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?” (Macnamara, 2016, p 61). The short answer is “Let them play!” Play develops critical thinking skills, communication skills, language, self expression, and cognitive skills. Through the use of their hands and tangible concrete objects, children can begin to make sense of the larger abstract ideas in the world around them. 

Moreover, play allows those that have experienced trauma to express deep emotions in a safe way. Bruce Perry (2006), author of The boy who was raised as a dog, recalls how one of his clients reenacted the abuse she had endured at the hands of someone who broke into her family home, murdered her mother, and attempted to murder her before leaving her for dead. The child could not discuss the trauma she had endured with words, but her imaginary play created the same graphic scene over and over each day until she processed it. Mcnamara (2016) tells the story of five year old Clayton, who was distraught over being separated from his mother during her cancer treatment. He began to play a wrestling game where he pretended to be a dog with his father every night. He would play and wrestle until he was completely exhausted from expending his energy into processing his intense emotions, and then he would sleep peacefully throughout the night. 

So, what does preserving play look like? Intentional spaces void of structured activities must be created, and those spaces must be utilized with integrity (void of adult agendas). Only when the environment is free of distractions and competing events will true imaginary, expressive, exploratory play occur. Incorporate play into rituals and routines. For example, parents may decide how many play dates a child can engage in during a certain length of time, and parents can also set limits for hours within the day with no interruptions to expressive play. Within the classroom, Mcnamara (2016) argues that preserving play is just as important. She states, “There is no evidence globally to suggest that reading at age five leads to greater academic success. Furthermore, pushing academics too soon can negatively impact a child’s disposition and motivation to learn” (p 74). The purpose of preschool and early childhood programs should remain on using purposeful play to help develop the social skills young children need and fostering the creativity that will enable them to become innovative thinkers and problem solvers throughout life. 

References

Macnamara, D. (2016). Rest play grow: Making sense of preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one). Aona Books.

Perry, B. (2006). The boy who was raised as a dog: And other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook. Basic Books. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Building confidence in your child…

By Brandy Browne

Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” How do we build confidence in our children? How can we prepare them to face a world that has become increasingly critical?

There has been lengthy discussion lately on the growing epidemic our children are facing with feelings of inferiority. There is discussion on cultural perpetuations that contribute to this…the rise in social media, an unfair system used as a means to evaluate worth, etc. These challenges will continue to be an issue for our children, which makes the role played by parents in helping children and adolescents overcome these feelings of inferiority and grow into capable, confident children critical.

Dr. James Dobson (2015) identifies beauty, intelligence, wealth, athletic ability, family dynamics, etc. as just a few of the means by which young people judge the worth of themselves and others. For example, being seen as physically attractive is of utmost importance to a teenage girl. She wants to be beautiful and catch the eye of the young men and be the envy of the young women. Young men might tie athletic ability to their self worth. Failing to make the desired sports team can have a devastating impact on a young boy. Dobson articulates many strategies for helping our youth build their sense of self worth. For example, he stresses that parents should implement a “no knock” policy. This means that we should not tolerate our children speaking about themselves in a self deprecating manner. Children that suffer from lower self esteem often talk about themselves in a belittling manner to anyone that might listen. Dobson argues that speaking those depreciatory words into existence causes them to “become solidified as fact in one’s own mind” (Dobson, 2015, p 104). Our job as parents is to teach our children to see themselves as worthy, and negative self talk cannot accomplish this. 

It is also worth noting that teaching children to compensate for their weaknesses can be a very valuable tool in your confidence building toolbelt. According to Dobson, “compensation is your child’s best weapon against inferiority” (Dobson, 2015, p 106). This strategy has the child hone in on developing strengths as a way to counterbalance weaknesses. This is very important for helping a child appreciate those strengths that he or she does possess and develop self confidence. It is also imperative to allow our children to suffer minor setbacks and disappointments from time to time. This is important because children will not learn to cope with frustration and disappointment if never faced with situations that warrant those particular emotions, and we will not be able to shelter them from those inevitable disappointments forever. It is far better to teach them how to handle negative emotions, not provide an “instant fix” for every problem that arises. Though we might disagree with the “system,” it is ultimately our job to help our children grow in ways that will enable them to be competitive with their same age peers. If our child is struggling with acne, see a dermatologist to help get it cleared up. If he or she is below grade level in reading, take advantage of tutoring programs to help him or her be more successful. If anxious thoughts are hindering him or her from being at his or her personal best, see a mental health professional. 

As previously stated, Dobson (2015) argues that compensation is our children’s best weapon against inferiority. Reader (2019), registered psychologist agrees. She states, “Research suggests that the more you recognize your child for the strengths and positives that make them who they are, the more they are able to grow stronger in their strengths and to be more resilient”  (Reader, 2019, retrieved from https://www.foothillsacademy.org/community-services/parenteducation/parent-articles/keeping-a-focus-on-strengths). The strengths model works to increase self esteem in our children, improve the parent-child relationship, and helps to support management of negative behaviors. If your child struggles with ADHD, for example, it can be really easy to focus on how impulsive he or she is, and one might become bogged down by how difficult that is to manage. That impulsivity, however, could serve them well later in life when it is easier for them to control. Children with ADHD are more comfortable taking creative risks, which could lead to new and creative ways to solve existing problems. Banes (2016) has a similar message. She affirms, “Those of us who are truly happy with our adult lives have learned to do things we are good at and not stress about the rest. We probably delegate or outsource the things we’re really bad at. Children can’t always avoid their weak areas, but by focusing on strengths we build self efficacy and confidence” (Banes, 2016, retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/04/01/6-ways-good-parents-contribute-to-their-childs-anxiety/%3foutputType=amp).

Barnes cautions of overplaying strengths to the point it causes our children additional anxiety, however. If we are constantly telling everyone that our child is brilliant and bound for an Ivy league college, it puts added pressure on them to perform at their very best all the time. Too much affirmation can turn to undue pressure for a child with perfectionist tendencies as is. Dobson articulates that “inferiority can either crush and paralyze an individual, or it can provide tremendous emotional energy to power every kind of success and achievement” (Dobson, 2015, p 108). It is our job as parents not to remove every struggle for our children, but to help them find their niche in an area that satisfies them emotionally and that they want to explore. Sometimes, as parents, we must force our children to branch out and explore new areas. For example, maybe a child is enrolled in piano lessons. At the beginning, it is not their idea, and it is a struggle. However, eventually, the child develops a love for music and becomes a skilled pianist. Without a push from mom or dad, the child might have never discovered the piano. Helping our children recognize a strength and pour energy into it sets the background for nearly every kind of successful human behavior later in life. Those that we tend to think of as successful have invested much time perfecting a craft that someone noticed they had an aptitude for. Dobson (2015) uses the example of Eleanor Roosevelt in his text. Roosevelt was orphaned at a young age, did not seem to “belong” to anyone, was not what society deemed physically attractive, and was painfully shy. Yet, she overcame those obstacles to become one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. Parents should begin to give their children choices that will set them up to compensate for weaknesses by middle childhood years. Helping our children focus on building strengths sets them up for a healthy identity formation later in life. Otherwise, they will likely pick less healthy methods of coping with the crippling inferiority that one often feels during the teen/adolescent years.

In conclusion, building confidence within your child is an ongoing mission for parents. Our greatest goal should always be focused on building confident capable humans who will go out into the world and make a difference.

References

Banes, K. (2016). 6 ways good parents contribute to their child’s anxiety. Washington Post.

Retrieved from

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/04/0

1/6-ways-good-parents-contribute-to-their-childs-anxiety/%3foutputType=amp

Dobson, J. (2015). Building confidence in your child. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.

Reader, M. (2019). Keeping a focus on strengths: Managing self esteem, relationships, and

behaviors. Foothills Academy. Retrieved from

https://www.foothillsacademy.org/community-services/parent-education/parentarticles/keeping-a-focus-on-strengths

Posted on Leave a comment

Flat brain theory…what does it mean when our brain is flat?

By Brandy Browne

James Petersen (2015) describes the flat brain theory of emotions with a great description of thoughts versus emotions or feelings. For example, stomach functions “consist of our emotions or feelings–those inner nudges that let us know when we are uncomfortable, happy, excited, interested, attracted, irritable, angry, resentful, frustrated, curious. Feelings are our internal responses to the world around us, to what we’re thinking, and to our bodies” (Peterson, 2015, p 20). I have noticed that, for both my daughter and I, who suffer from anxiety, one of the first places that we notice discomfort is in our stomach. For example, if my daughter is feeling anxious and upset, she will likely tell me her stomach hurts or feels nauseous. She becomes “stuck” in these feelings. As an adult, I am able to pull more into my heart and head functions. The “heart” is where we are able to own our views and opinions. It requires recognizing that our feelings are just that, feelings. Finally, the “head,” or our brain, is the rational part of us where we can make decisions and choose how to respond to the feelings within our stomach and heart. For me, it might look like realizing that someone is not trying to be offensive, but that I am in an anxious state, and need to take some time for self-care before responding.

Items in Petersen’s discussion on “flat brain syndrome” really resonated with me as well. For example, Petersen (2015) also describes what happens to our brains when emotions swell and flatten the heart and head functions. He discusses how we should not hold people accountable for what they say and do when their brains are flat. This sounds loving and forgiving in theory, and to an extent, I agree. However, I struggle with agreeing with this statement when it is a regular behavior from someone. If every time your spouse gets angry, they say hateful things and expect to be forgiven simply because they were angry and did not mean it, that is a problem. In those instances, it makes sense to teach said person how to take time before responding in order to give their emotions time to get back into alignment.

There are four basic goals of listening to help manage the flat brain syndrome. First, reduce those things disturbing the emotions. It is so important to name and release our feelings, rather than bottle them up. I am guilty of holding my feelings in to the point where it physically damages my health for fear of upsetting someone or having to deal with confrontation, which I definitely tend to avoid. I am actively working on releasing feelings in an appropriate and healthy way early on in the emotional process to prevent this from happening. Second, clarify thinking by asking questions. Repeat what was said accurately, and then put it into your own words. “I think I’m hearing that you feel —-. Tell me more about that.” Third, increase self confidence. For me, this looks like taking part in activities that make me feel more confident and powerful in my personal interactions. Finally, make sure you are surrounded by friends who are supportive. As someone who struggles with depression and mental illness, as a whole, I can attest to the fact that it can be very isolating. Focusing my energies on improving the lives of others by being a supportive friend has definitely helped in the way that I am able to remove myself a bit from my own struggles.

There are concrete strategies for avoiding the conflict that goes with the flat brain tango. When you think about it, how do you feel after you “win” an argument? Most times, it does not make me feel better. In fact, I will likely feel worse. He calls for us to “decode” the message that those experiencing “flat brain” may be trying to inflect. For example, if my husband says, “The house is a mess. What do you do all day?” I might respond with, “It sounds like the messy kitchen is stressing you out. Is that what I’m hearing?” He would then likely respond with, “Yes, I cannot relax in a messy home.” Then, we have a starting point for an authentic conversation about how I can reduce his stress.

Petersen (2015) is calling us to improve our relationships. Listen deeply, ask questions to clarify thoughts/feelings, and take action to respond appropriately. In the end, being kind is almost always more important than being “right.” Additionally, we need to be attuned to our own moods and anxieties. If we are displaced emotionally, it is okay to take time to engage in activities that will bring us back into balance with ourselves for the sake of keeping our relationships positive.

References

Peterson, J. (2015). Why don’t we listen better? Communicating and connecting in relationships. Peterson Publications.


Posted on Leave a comment

Attachment styles and the effect on our children

By Brandy Browne

            Attachment theory refers to how relationships developed in the first year of life play a pivotal role in how an infant will develop emotionally across the lifespan. British psychiatrist John Bowlby first coined the term “attachment” in the late 1950’s (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Bowlby was convinced that how a caregiver responds to an infant’s needs plays a critical role in shaping the personality of the infant. Bowlby argued that if the attachment a child develops with his or her caregiver is healthy and secure (child feels safe and that needs are met in a timely manner), his or her needs will ultimately decrease over time, and independence will be fostered (MacNamara, 2016, p 78).

            The concept of attachment to caregivers serves three purposes. First, it strengthens the emotional bond when the infant and caregiver are in close proximity to one another. Next, the infant develops a sense of safety because physical and emotional protection is provided from the caregiver. Finally, if the infant becomes distressed, the caregiver is able to alleviate his or her stress (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).  Attachment is important to the field of human development because research has proven that attachments formed in the first year of life help shape emotional and relational development (as well as basic personality) across the lifespan. Insecure attachments in infancy have been linked to problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and even a higher risk for divorce.  

Developmental Impact

            Attachment theory is typically referring to attachments created between infants and their caregivers in the first year of life. Dr. Mary Ainsworth expanded on the work of her colleagues John Bowlby and Erik Erikson by conducting research on the impact of the quality of attachments between infants and their caregivers (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015). Through a test where infants were placed in strange situations where their primary caregiver would leave and reenter the room, along with a stranger entering and exiting the room (varying degrees of stress for the infants), Ainsworth observed three different types of attachment patterns between infants and caregivers (a fourth was later identified by other researchers, bringing about the four basic attachment patterns developmental researchers study today). A child that is “securely attached” will become distressed when his or her caregiver leaves, but will greet them happily upon their return. These children are secure in their caregiver’s responsiveness to their needs, and will usually happily explore their surroundings, returning to the caregiver periodically for reassurance and connection. “Anxious ambivalent” infants are often stressed. These infants are very distraught when the caregiver leaves, and they may show a range of emotion from anger to sadness to confusion upon the caregiver’s return. These children are unlikely to venture off to explore surroundings. Simply put, they are not secure in the responsiveness of the caregiver, and therefore, they do not want to leave him or her. “Avoidant” children do not show signs of distress during separations, and they may actively avoid the caregiver upon his or her return. They maintain the same heart rate patterns of other babies, but they may look to external objects (such as toys) to provide comfort, rather than attuning to the caregiver to alleviate stress. Finally, “disorganized disoriented” infants showed conflicting patterns of behavior during separations from caregivers. They may appear stressed and try to run after the caregiver, but if the caregiver were to turn around to approach them, they may run away from the caregiver, rather than to them. 

Schroder et. al (2019) focused their study on the effects attachment has during middle childhood into adolescence and adulthood. They found that children that were not securely attached during infancy and early childhood were at increased risk for behavioral and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, poor relationships with peers, and an inability to regulate emotions properly. Unsurprisingly, Schroder et. al also found that children in foster care and children that were adopted past infancy were more prone to develop attachment disorders as well, presumably because secure relationships were not established during the first year of life.

Pietromonaco, Uchino, and Schetter (2013) took attachment theory to a test with married couples. Attachment style cohesivity still mattered greatly. For example, an anxious wife paired with an avoidant husband would likely struggle through transitional periods in life and stressful episodes (such as one partner being diagnosed with cancer). Interventions to help both partners form more secure attachments would be useful. This reaffirmed that insecure attachments formed early in life continue to be problematic all the way through adulthood.

Why does this matter?

Rees (2007) argues that a child’s attachment pattern is certainly impacted, if not defined, by the attachment pattern of his or her caregiver. Plainly stated, this suggests that if a parent lacked a secure attachment to his or her caregiver, their child may lack a secure attachment as well. So, these issues that stem from insecure attachments are likely to be perpetuated and cyclical in nature. At some point, an intervention will need to take place to break the cycle for future generations.

Resources

Rest play grow: Making sense of preschoolers (Or anyone who acts like one)

This text focuses on relationship building with the preschool aged child. In particular, MacNamara (2016) discusses how the purpose of attachment is to help the young, immature soul learn to depend on those around him or her. One practical suggestion she offers to parents is to take the lead in setting limits for children. In order for a child to feel securely attached, he or she must feel safe emotionally and physically. This happens when the child is secure in the parent’s ability to keep him or her safe.

Practitioner Review: Clinical applications of attachment theory and research for infants and young children

https://acamh-onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/doi/full/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02399.x

Zeanah, Berlin, and Boris (2011) define different types of attachment in this article. Time is also spent on specific interventions to use when an insecure attachment is identified in young children. Child-parent psychotherapy, video based interventions promoting positive parenting, and the circle of security are discussed as ways to help intervene in these families and assist them in building more secure attachments, ultimately resulting in the young children being able to regulate emotions more effectively.

Payne County Youth Services

Services

Payne County Youth Services offers family counseling services to families that would be unable to provide services otherwise. There is no charge for the services provided. Family counseling would be beneficial to families struggling with poor attachment, as specific skills to help youth develop secure attachments and healthy emotional regulation skills, thus minimizing the damage that insecure attachment can cause well into adulthood.

Oklahoma State University Center for Family Services

https://humansciences.okstate.edu/hdfs/cfs/

OSU’s center for Family Services provides parent-child interaction therapy, which could be helpful in helping the parents develop skills needed to assist their children in being able to develop a secure attachment. Parent-child interaction therapy teaches parents positive language to use with children and healthy boundary setting procedures. This is imperative to help children develop the necessary sense of safety provided by the care and responsiveness to their needs from the caregiver. A child that feels safe is a secure child.

Childhood Attachment

Rees (2007) explores the role that attachment plays throughout the lifespan and how underrepresented it is in the medical sector. Rees defines many of the problems that can result in poor attachment in childhood, and argues that many of the problems society faces today results from insecure attachment styles.

References

Broderick, P. C., & Blewitt, P. (2015). The life span: Human development for helping professionals (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Dobson, J. (2007). Parenting isn’t for cowards. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House.

MacNamara, D. (2016). Rest play grow: Making sense of preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one). Vancouver, Canada: Aona Books.

Oklahoma State University Center for Family Services. (2020). https://humansciences.okstate.edu/hdfs/cfs/

Payne County Youth Services. PCYS. (2020). http://www.pcys.org/services/

Rees, C. (2007). Childhood attachment. British Journal of General Practice. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2169321/

Schroder, M., Ludtke, J., Fux, E., Izat, Y., Bolten, M., Gloger-Tippelt, G., Suess, G., Schmid, M. (2019). Attachment disorder and attachment theory- Two sides of one metal or two different coins. Comprehension Psychiatry, 95. Retrieved from: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010440X19300628

Zeanah, C., Berlin, L., Boris, N. (2011). Practitioner review: Clinical applications of attachment theory and research in infants and young children. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52 (8).  Retrieved from:  

https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02399.x

Posted on Leave a comment

How television and social media can promote healthy discussion in your home

By Brandy Browne

I know I’ll probably catch some heat for this, but you know those moms that set iron controls and limits on what their kids can and cannot watch on television, YouTube, etc.? Yeah, I’m not one of them. Before you hit me with too many hate comments, though, hear me out. I’m certainly not letting my children watch XXX movies, BUT, I happen to think that one of the worst things you can do is not prepare your child for the things that are out there in this world we are navigating every day. AND, I want my children to feel comfortable enough with having open and honest discussions with me that they will come to me with questions about things they observe, rather than relying on their friends to be all knowing resources to life’s questions.

According to a study in 2016, 39% of parents report using parental controls to limit their child’s access to television programs, social media, etc. (PEW Research Center, 2016, retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/01/07/parents-teens-and-digital-monitoring/#:~:text=For%20instance%2C%20the%20new%20survey,cellphone%20to%20track%20their%20location.). I have used certain apps to ensure that my daughter cannot just add anyone to her Kids Messenger account.

Case in point, my oldest daughter loves following fashion vlogs on YouTube. She is a smart girl with a good head on her shoulders, and I trust her judgment. She has a phone, but we have full access to everything on her phone. If she sees or hears something on a video that seems questionable, she feels comfortable coming to me and asking what it means. She’ll say, “Mom, —- said this on her video. What does that mean?” And we have a discussion about it. My middle child loves to watch scary movies. When something on a movie scared my youngest, we looked up special effects to see how the movie people made the monsters look so real. Guess what? She is not scarred for life, AND she does know that monsters are not real and that there is a real person under the makeup on the screen.

I truly believe that the key to handling this particular issue with your children lies not so much in shielding them from every bit of content that the media floods us with, but in establishing a secure relationship in which your child is comfortable coming to you with questions. My children know there is no question that mom or dad refuse to answer. Those tough things like child predators lurking behind screens? We talk about that too. Some limits are imposed. We do not do TikTok. None of our children have actual social media accounts. They are allowed to chat with friends via Messenger, but we have access to all their messages. Our main rule is, “No secrets.” As a family, we have discussed that secrets tend to be harmful. Surprises (like let’s surprise Daddy with some new hunting binoculars) are okay, but if someone asks you to keep secrets from your family, that is not okay.

At the end of the day, I feel that a few healthy limits and keeping the lines of communication open are where my priorities lie as a mom. If my children feel secure in our relationship, then even if they are exposed to something I wish they would not be exposed to, we can have a productive discussion about it and prepare our children for situations they will undoubtedly encounter.

References

PEW Research Center. (2016) Parents, teens, and digital monitoring. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/01/07/parents-teens-and-digital-monitoring/#:~:text=For%20instance%2C%20the%20new%20survey,cellphone%20to%20track%20their%20location.

Posted on Leave a comment

The “Mommy Timeout” and why you NEED one…

By Brandy Browne

                According to the CDC (2020), as many as 1 out of 10 mothers in the United States experienced a major bout with depression within the last year. Getting personal for a moment, I believe that this occurs for many reasons. My personal story with depression actually ties back to before my husband and I had children. We experienced multiple miscarriages trying to conceive our first daughter. In the middle of undergoing fertility testing, I fell pregnant with her, and this time, our pregnancy was successful. Within five years, we were parents to three beautiful children, two daughters and a son, and my world was forever changed. I poured all my energy into being an amazing mom to those beautiful little people we were blessed with. My identity was nearly solely tied up in being their mother. Date nights were very rare (yes, my relationship with my love of nearly twenty years suffered as well), and though I was frustrated, I felt guilty asking for help or needing time to myself, because, after all, there was a time it looked like we might not have children at all. So, I kept pouring from my empty cup. The funny thing was that the more I poured into these precious people, the more exhausted and grouchy I became. Finally, after several family events (my father’s health deteriorated, my husband had several employment changes within a few years, I had some changes within my career focus in moving from upper elementary teaching to early childhood education), I came to the point where I desperately needed help.

                I went in to my physician, who bluntly asked me, “What do you actually do for you when you are not taking care of everyone else?” It was at that very moment that I realized I did not have one thing to tell her. I could not come up with one single hobby that was not tied to my family or work. I left that day with a prescription for an antidepressant and some gentle directions to work on finding something for me.

                I stumbled the next few weeks. I had been tied up in the identity for others that I had no idea how to start for me, and I was exhausted from trying to be (and failing) everything for everyone for so long. Then, one day, I saw a Facebook post advertising a Color Run not to far from me. I had never even walked a 5K distance before, but for some reason, I decided I wanted to try. I began running nearly every day. In the beginning, I could barely run thirty seconds at a time. I noticed right away how clear my head was after I went outside and took that thirty to forty five minutes for myself. I decided to translate that into other areas as well. Simple changes. I locked the door to take a long bath. If I had had a stressful day, I got the kids started playing independently, and then I went and shut the door to gather myself for ten to fifteen minutes before reengaging. I started saying NO when I did not have the time or energy to commit. I locked the door so I could have some alone time with my husband without being paranoid a child might interrupt us. I made them go play, so we could snuggle and watch a movie on the couch. And I felt SO MUCH BETTER! Even the little things that had been so increasingly difficult to deal with were easier after I carved out a few minutes for myself.

                Through medical treatment, a good support system, lifestyle changes, and being intentional about making time for self care, I have run three half marathons, a full marathon, earned a graduate degree (another long time goal that had been shelved for so long because, I mean, I was a mom and who had time for that), and am raising some sweet, healthy, well adjusted kids who are even better because Mom is better for them. I was not punishing my children by taking care of myself. In fact, it is just the opposite. I am so much happier and calmer in my interactions with them when I am at my best. It is absolutely critical that you care for your whole person in order for you to be at your best for those you love. Never feel guilty for taking a moment for yourself because when that moment passes, I guarantee you will handle little Sally’s next meltdown with much more grace than if you had both been tired and exhausted. Finally, we are modeling what we want our children all the time, whether we are intentional about it or not. Modeling taking care of yourself will inspire your sons and daughters to take care of their physical and mental health as well, and is that not what we desire for our children? Raising resilient, well adjusted productive members of society begins with modeling how to properly care for ourselves.

References

CDC. (2020). Depression among women. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/index.htm

Posted on Leave a comment

4 Reasons why Pets are Good for Mental Health

By Brandy Browne

Animals have been touted as a remedy for depression and anxiety for decades. Why, exactly, is a doctor or mental health specialist likely to suggest a pet as part of your treatment plan? Animals are great distractions from stress and teach many social skills that are able to be transferred over into relationships with peers of the human variety. Let’s find out more…

  1. Studies show that simply petting an animal reduces blood pressure and promotes healthy levels of cortisol within our bodies.

Maybe you have had a stressful day at work. Your technology was glitchy, clients were impatient, or your tasks were merely extra demanding today. By the time you walk through the door, your mood is anything but calm and relaxed. You toss your bag by your bed, and you go plop down in your favorite chair, sour and sullen at the world. The children are playing around you, and the mere sound of their squeals is grating on your nerves. This is too much, you think. Then, the family dog comes and lays his head on your leg, nudging your hand. You sigh and reluctantly start stroking his head. Over the next few minutes, he pushes soft kisses against your hand and stares at you with those deep, soulful eyes. Pretty soon, your breathing is even, and you feel regulated again. You are now able to carry about your evening business, and your children do not have to feel the brunt of your stressful day.

  • Pets promote higher self esteem.

This has been studied in children and older populations as well. Often times, our elderly struggle with a lack of purpose in their life and intense feelings of loneliness. As their child rearing days are over, and their own children are busy with their families, they can really struggle with feelings of no longer being needed. Caring for an animal increases their self esteem and gives them a newfound sense of purpose. Someone is counting on them for care, and as they meet the needs of their pet, their self esteem increases.

  • Children that own pets often have greater social skills.

Pets provide an opportunity to practice social skills in a safe way. For children, especially, those skills transfer over to the play that they engage in for same age peers. For example, John plays fetch with his dog after school. A simple game of fetch gives John an opportunity to practice taking turns. If he takes over and refuses to give the ball back to his puppy, the puppy loses interest and wanders off. If he continues to toss the ball though, he is rewarded with more play time with his pup. The same skill can be transferred over to his play with peers. If he is controlling and refuses to take turns, his peers will likely not want to continue to engage in play with him. If he takes turns and is a team player, he will be rewarded with greater social interaction with others.

  • Pets develop empathy and the ability to read body language cues in others.

Often times, people that have endured trauma of some sort have learned to isolate themselves and lack empathy as a result. They could not depend upon others to protect them from harm, and they have not been exposed to loving, attentive relationships in order to learn how to read cues from others with accuracy. Animals are fantastic teachers for this skill. They communicate very openly through body language with no hidden meanings(Loar & Coleman, 2004, p 70). A wagging tale and bright eyes from your pup indicates he or she is happy to see you. Teeth bared and hair standing on end in a cat means back off or you may get scratched. All ages can take the knowledge applied from reading cues from their animal into their relationships with peers. A set jaw and clenched fists indicates anger. Tears or looking down at the ground may indicate sadness, or at least discomfort with the situation. Pets help us to develop the critical skill of empathy.

Animals require commitment and are certainly not for everyone. However, if you are willing to devote the time and energy to caring for your animal, your family will reap the mental health benefits as well!

References

Loar, L. & Coleman, L. (2004). Teaching empathy: Animal-assisted therapy programs for children and families exposed to violence. Latham Foundation Publications.

Posted on Leave a comment

Parenting the Strong Willed Child

 If a parent has more than one child, it is inevitable that at least one will display an iron clad will. This child will react poorly to new people and situations, be impossible to place on a regular feeding and sleeping schedule, routinely balk at rules and procedures. Our job then, according to Dobson (2004) is “not simply to shape the will, but to do so without breaking the spirit.” Strong willed children are set up for a plethora of interpersonal conflicts, by default. It is the job of the parents to teach the child to submit to proper authorities and to work well with others.

Definition of the Human Service Problem

The number of children who fall into the category Dobson (2004) describes as “difficult” or “strong willed” has been rising steadily over the last several decades. In fact, Dobson articulates that “there are nearly three times as many strong willed kids as those who are compliant” (Dobson, 2004, p 49). It is very rare to find a family with multiple children that does not have at least one child who wants to run the show. This is problematic for several reasons. First, strong willed children suffer academically and socially in school, with many receiving poor grades and struggling to develop relationships with same age peers. Additionally, compliant children appear to have higher self esteem than their strong willed counterparts. Strong willed children that are not taught to submit to authority in childhood with their parents will also struggle to submit to other forms of authority (teachers, employers, law enforcement, etc.).

Dobson (2004) further describes the strong willed child in The new strong willed child. Strong willed children tend to react negatively to new people and situations. They can be characterized by intense mood swings, frequent periods of crying, temper tantrums, etc. It is also very difficult to place these children on regular feeding and sleeping schedules. Simply put, these children do not play by the rules out of sense of duty to be obedient. They will test any boundaries that are imposed upon them on a consistent basis.

Roots and Causes of Stronger Willed Children

So, why the abundance of overly strong willed youth? MacNamara (2016) delves into this topic in her work, Rest play grow: Making sense of preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one). She describes the rise in what is referred to as the “alpha complex.” In this case, the parent-child relationship becomes inverted, with the child taking on a more dominant role in the relationship. When a parent figure lacks authority, the child loses his or her faith in the ability of the adult to keep him/her safe. Then, the child seeks to gain control over the parent. If the child grows insecure in the parent-child relationship, there will be a marked play to gain control and change circumstances.  

MacNamara (2016) also describes parental history as a culprit for the alpha complex as well. If a parent lived with an overly authoritarian parent as a child, he or she may be inclined to be overly permissive in order to keep the child from suffering the same wounds that the parent did. The child can sense that their parent has unmet needs and will then move to attempt to take charge in the situation. MacNamara delves further, stating, “In another scenario, if a parent had little support for their tears and sadness growing up, they may struggle to help their child face limits and restrictions because it creates upset they are uncomfortable with” (MacNamara, 2016, p 111). In these situations, parents must be particularly reflection and in tune with what works and does not work for their child.  

Dobson (2014) has an interesting discussion of temperament in his work, Dare to Discipline. He states that temperament of a child is at least partially inherited. Therefore, if a mother or father was especially strong willed as a child, he or she is more likely to produce at least one especially strong willed offspring.  With that knowledge, he argues that parents must explicitly teach behaviors they desire to see. If a parent desires that a child demonstrate respect for authority, he or she must model the life principle of respect frequently in order for the child to have something to emulate.

In his work Seven solutions for burned out parents, Dobson (2007) promotes a lack of quality family time as a definitive link to undesirable behavior in children and teens. He argues, “When parents are involved intimately with their kids during the teen years and when their relationship leads to an active family life, rebellious and destructive behavior is less likely to occur” (Dobson, 2007, p 79). MacNamara (2016) seconds this belief in her work, affirming that culturally, there is an incredible emphasis on success in extracurriculars from a very early age. This places children outside of the family environment, where modeling of virtues such as patience, compassion, kindness, faith, etc. should be being modeled. MacNamara directs, “When children are pushed to be independent too soon, they will take the lead out of necessity” (MacNamara, 2016, p 110). In other words, parents push their children to develop independence, then wonder why it grows increasingly difficult to exercise authority over them. She argues that adults need to create an environment where they are the answer to life’s questions for the child.

History of the Problem

There has been a plethora of misleading information on parenting strong willed children, which has undoubtedly increased the prevalence of children that “rule the roost.” For example, in 1974, a best selling author of the time, John Holt, advocated for the complete release of parental authority. He argued that children should be able to experience anything (including drug use, alcohol, premarital sex, etc), and that parents should just trust them to learn to handle it (Dobson, 2004, p 42). Even current research tends to promote “positive parenting.” This style of parenting has parents making all requests and redirection with positive statements. For example, if Sally was running through the house, her mother would be coached to say, “Use your walking feet, Sally.” There are plenty of times a child simply needs to hear “no” or “stop.”  However, parents are instructed not to use negative language. Faber and King (2017) illuminate the topic of directive language with children further, affirming that children are not wired to automatically obey adults they have no relationship with. This lends itself to the conclusion that the problem is not so much with particular wording, but in a lack of appropriate relationship with children. If a child is secure in the adult leading him/her, hearing the word “no” would be unlikely to bring on a power struggle.

MacNamara (2016) delves into the rise of the alpha child in her text. She argues that one challenge that parents have faced and continue to face is the pressure to have children become proficient in a number of areas including technology and competitive sports. It is articulated that “when children are pushed to be independent too soon, they will take the lead out of necessity” (MacNamara, 2016, p 110). The increasing pressure to have children hit milestones early is contributing to the inversion of the parent-child relationship. Simply put, children are growing up too fast.

Future Recommendations

            Dobson (2004) offers many suggestions to help shape the will of a strong willed child. The will must be shaped in order for a child to develop a healthy respect for authority. In order for this to happen, the process of shaping the will must be started in the preschool years. Additionally, it is exceptionally important to clearly define boundaries before one tries to enforce them. Next, parents must distinguish between childish irresponsibility and willful defiance. A child misplacing his or her shoes is irresponsible. A child who screams in the face of his or her parent is being defiant. In that case, the transgression should be dealt with appropriately in the manner in which you are comfortable. Dobson (2004) is a supporter of corporal punishment, affirming that a mild spanking is an appropriate discipline tool for children between the ages of two and ten years of age. Dobson articulates, “ Firm discipline, when administered with love, helps provide that protection” (Dobson, 2004, p 144). This circles back to the importance of enhancing the parent-child relationship. A child that is secure in his or her parent’s love is unlikely to feel abused or scarred from discipline measures.

            MacNamara (2016) investigates the importance of conveying a strong alpha presence to children. She explains, “This means you assume responsibility for making headway in righting the relationship, for keeping the child out of harm’s way, and for not putting them in situations that are too difficult to manage them in” (MacNamara, 2016, p 116). If the relationship between the child and parent is inverted, the child cannot trust in the caretaking offered. Dobson (2014) agrees, affirming that children ultimately desire to be led (they enjoy the structure), but insist that the adults in their life earn the right to lead them. Language should be clear and concise, leaving little room for argument. An example of this could occur in the supermarket. The young child is touching everything on the shelf. Rather than saying, “Wouldn’t you like to keep your hands to yourself and make Mom happy?,” simply state, “Hands to self.” The directive is short, clear, and it is not phrased as a question.

            Faber and King (2017) dive further into the topic of communication with the strong willed child in their text, How to talk so little kids will listen: A survival guide to life with children ages 2-7. A mistake that parents make all too often is attaching the word “please” at the end of all requests. This insinuates to the child that the directive is a choice, when in all reality, “no” is not an acceptable answer. Some tools given to help deal with the defiance that strong willed children often exhibit include being playful in one’s parenting approach (such as making an inanimate object talk…the shoes could whine for the child to put them on, etc), turning mundane tasks into competitive games, offering choices when possible (the key here is to make sure the parent can live with both options), and using language to describe what is noticed. For example, rather than stating, “Don’t leave your jacket on the floor!,” a parent might simply state, “I see a jacket on the floor.” The description is void of negative energy, just a clear description of what is seen that cannot be argued with.

            It is also especially critical to remain calm and in control while parenting strong willed children. Faber and King (2017) state to “take action without insult.” If the child is throwing rocks at the park near where other children are playing after expectations are clearly explained, calmly tell him or her that is time to go because their behavior is unsafe. If two children are dueling over a toy, simply state that the toy has to be put up until the children can get along and play safely together.

    

Summary

            One of the most important points to be drawn from research is that a strong willed temperament can be a powerful and good attribute for a child to possess. It is not necessarily a negative quality. Strong willed children are likely to demonstrate the same iron clad will in chasing their dreams later in life. They are less likely to be influenced by peer pressure. Dobson cautions, however, “the realization of that potential appears to depend on the provision of a structured early home environment led by loving, fair minded mothers and fathers who are clearly tougher and wiser than their children. They are reasonably effective in shaping the will without breaking the spirit are going to appreciate the person their child eventually becomes” (Dobson, 2004, p 248). These children will grow to be leaders and trend setters in their respective fields and occupations. 

            Another key point that all authors agree on is the importance of shaping the will early on in life. Children must begin learning respect for authority during the preschool years. If parents wait until their children are teens, it is far too late to teach how to properly submit to authority. Dobson (2004) notes that a youngster that is allowed to be continuously defiant will grow into a rebellious teen that challenges his or her parents, teachers, and other authority figures (employers, administrators, law enforcement, etc.). Dobson advises parents to be “confidently firm” in their demeanor with their children. Excessive harshness is not the answer to the challenge of shaping the will of a naturally strong willed child, but neither is excessive permissiveness. There must be a balance. Parents must intuitively know which battles are worth picking, and when to let certain things slide a little.

            Additionally, all texts focus on the importance of the right type of relationship with your child. MacNamara notes, “A right relationship with a parent gives the child someone to turn to who can take the sting out of shame (when feeling something is wrong with who they are), reduce separation (when being rejected, unwelcome, or uninvited), and lower alarm (when feeling unsafe physically and emotionally). Love is the ultimate shield for a child’s vulnerable heart- it is a beautiful design” (MacNamara, 2016, p 141). Ultimately, children long to feel safe, secure, and loved. When parents are unable to provide circumstances in which these feelings naturally occur, the relationship becomes inverted. The child loses faith in the adult’s ability to keep them safe and secure. So, they seek a more dominant position within the relationship in order to alter conditions to where they are comfortable. It is imperative that we are our child’s “safe place.” A child’s relationship with his/her parents sets the tone for his/her relationship with God. If we model being a “safe place,” a child is more likely to turn to their heavenly father for safekeeping as well.

            In conclusion, the increase in the number of strong willed children has made it imperative for parents and educators to examine their own practices and be reflective on how the will of these children can be shaped into a healthy balance between independence and a willingness to submit to necessary forms of authority. This will help these children become the people God desires them to grow into.

References

Dobson, J. (2007). Seven solutions for burned-out parents. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.

Dobson, J. (2014). The new dare to discipline. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

Dobson, J. (2004). The new strong-willed child. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

Faber, J. and King, J. (2017). How to talk so little kids will listen: A survival guide to life with children ages 2-7. New York, NY: Scribner.

MacNamara, D. (2016). Rest play grow: Making sense of preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one). Vancouver, Canada: Aona Books.

Posted on Leave a comment

Fight or Flight: Panic attacks and what you can do about them

By Brandy Browne

            It was a hot summer night. Our fan was blowing, and the air conditioning in our little home was cranked down about as low as it could go. I had endured a particularly stressful day. My father had suffered a stroke, and we had spent hours in the emergency room, and then several more hours in intensive care after he was administered a clot busting drug. I had fallen asleep exhausted, physically and mentally. At 2:00 A.M., however, I jolted wide awake. My tee shirt was drenched in sweat. My heart was beating wildly. My head was pulsing, and there was a loud buzzing in my ears. As my hands shook, I struggled to regain control of myself. I was having a panic attack, unbeknownst to the sweet young preschooler and my husband snoozing beside me. I stumbled out of bed to get a glass of water. As I sat in the quiet of my living room, I tried to focus my breathing. It’s crazy how someone with as much mental health training as I’ve had can still struggle with panic attacks. That’s the thing about anxiety, though…it is not reserved for a certain demographic, age, etc. We are all victim to it from time to time.

            If you find yourselves in the throws of an anxiety attack like I do from time to time, I would like to offer a couple suggestions to help you pull out of it and regain control. First, give “grounding” a try. No, I’m not sending you to your room until you are calmer. Grounding refers to focusing your attention on your five senses in an effort to focus your attention elsewhere. First, focus on what you can see around you. Is it light? Is it dark? Who is around you? Where are you? Next, focus on the sounds. In my case, that was very helpful, as the night was still and quiet, which is exactly what I needed. Third, what can you touch? I could feel the cool chair beneath me, the fuzzy blanket I had tossed over my legs, and my smooth hair as I raked my fingers through it. Fourth, can you taste anything? I could taste the cold water sliding down my throat. Finally, what can you smell? I smelled the remnants of leftover pizza in the kitchen and our scentsy, which usually has some form of vanilla or fall scent going year round (fall is my favorite smell).

            Also, if you are in a position with animals, try grounding with a furry friend. When I hold my rabbit, her smooth fur is very soothing to me. Her little squeaks and twitching nose give me something else to focus on. Or, you could step outside. Nature offers us a bounty of sensory experiences. We live on a farm, so I am always smelling and hearing the animals (not all those smells are pleasant, of course). However, I definitely have something else to focus on. Above all, remember that panic attacks are often fleeting if you are able to ground yourself back to the here and now again. You are not alone. Panic disorders of some sort affect over six million adults nationwide, and women are twice as likely to be affected as men (retrieved from http://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics). Be sure to get with your primary care physician or mental health team to come up with a treatment plan for your specific needs, but, in the meantime, try the above tricks to regain tranquility and calm in your mental state.

Reference

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2020). Facts and Statistics. http://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics